Queensland Country have claimed their maiden NRC title after a 42-28 win over the Vikings in Canberra. It was a game fitting of the Grand Final between first and second place on the ladder and it came down to the final minutes for Country to seal the game with two late tries.
A hat trick to winger Filipo Daugunu and a double to captain Duncan Paia’aua, who also had a hand in a few of the other tries, were instrumental in the Country win but the Vikings will rue their second half after letting slip a 21-7 lead at the break as Country had it all their way and their possession dominance finally told in the end.
It was a fairly uneventful opening ten minutes, unless you’re a prop, after numerous scrums and resets. Country spent almost the whole period in the Vikings 22 and looked good early with Taniela Tupou and Caleb Timu combining to put a warning shot across the Vikings bow but they got out of trouble after Country knocked on and then were penalised.
Country were dominating the possession and territory for the opening 15 minutes and went very close to scoring after an acrobatic attempt from Filipo Daugunu saved a Caleb Timu grubber from going over the sideline and Tai Ford looked to have come up with the five-pointer but was denied by the TMO.
Country finally did get on the board after 20 minutes after a brilliant move starting with a huge cut out pass from Duncan Paia’aua in midfield found Eto Nabuli down the left wing, and with Chris Feauai-Sautia also involved, it eventually fell to James Tuttle for the opening try. He converted his own try for a 7-0 lead.
The Vikings hit back not long after with their first real chance with the ball. An error on the restart by Qld Country followed by a penalty gave them a chance to execute their rolling maul but the Country defence was up to the initial task. A numerous pick and goes near the line, James Dargaville found a way over the line. Hawera converted to level the scores.
Despite all their dominance in the opening half, Country were unable to convert with a knock on right near the Vikings line getting them out of trouble and shortly after, the Vikings had taken the lead with Harry Lloyd, in as a late swap with Faalelei Sione, barging over from close range after the Vikings backs were bale to find gaps in the midfield to set it up.
The Vikings went further in front just before half time with back rower Rob Valetini getting amongst the try scorers. The try was setup by fullback Tom Banks as he found space out wide and offloaded to Dargaville who was brought down just short but Valetini was able to finish off the move. Hawera landed his third conversion of the match from out wide to make it 21-7 at the break.
Country got the second half started on the right foot with a try to leading try scorer Filipo Daugunu in his usual acrobatic fashion after a look from the TMO. Tuttle converted from the sideline to make it 21-14. This came on the back of a Vikings error after they kicked out on the full from their 22 after it was carried back and, again, Paia’aua’s passing in the lead up played a crucial role.
Country tied up the game after 15 minutes in the second with a well worked try off first phase. Paia’aua was again involved as he took on the line and Daugunu ran a nice line behind him to take the pass and score under the sticks. Tuttle’s simple conversion leveled it at 21-21.
The points kept coming for Country, this time the beneficiaries of a charged down box kick and Paia’aua collected the crumbs and score to make it 21 unanswered points in nearly as many minutes and the momentum all in their favour.
The Vikings couldn’t get much going as Country disrupted most of their set piece opportunities as they could barely get their hands on the ball.
With 15 minutes remaining, Country went down to 14 men after Paia’aua copped a yellow card for a high shot and soon after the Vikings hit back with replacement Lausii Taliauli given the nod by the TMO, the second hardest worker at the ground after the blokes on the BBQ and Hawera made it 4 conversion from as many attempts.
With five minutes remaining, Country sealed the match after Paia’aua came back from the sin bin to score his second and then straight off the restart, Filipo Daugunu collected the ball then ran to the line to seal his hat trick. Tuttle’s 100% conversion rate continued as he made it 42-28.
The Game Changer
The second half – After being down 21-7 at the break, Country scored 35 points in the second half even after being down to 14 men at one stage.
The G&GR MOTM
Filipo Daugunu – continued his awesome try scoring form with a hat trick and added 168 running metres and 12, that’s right, 12 tackle busts.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Dargaville, Lloyd, Valetini, Taliauli
Conversions: Hawera 4
Tries: Daugunu 3, Paia’aua 2, Tuttle
Conversions: Tuttle 6
66 mins – Paia’aua (Qld Country) – Yellow